Friday, March 7, 2014

Cajun Seafood Packets

This is an extremely easy weeknight meal that packs a load of flavor into a foil pouch.  This is one of our favorite low stress meals that really only requires about 10 minutes of prep, and 45 minutes in the oven.  To start, Mandy washed and quartered some red potatoes and precooked them in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

While the potatoes were cooking she chopped up some zucchini, quartered 6 small scallops, and sliced up some kielbasa.  To build the packets, she folded a 12-15 inch long section of aluminum foil in half, folded up the sides, and poured 1/8 cup of white wine, a tablespoon of butter, corn, and the rest of the chopped up ingredients (including the potatoes) into the foil pouches.  She also added half of a tilapia filet and 4 raw shrimp to each of the pouches.  We use a Cajun seasoning to spice up the mix before crimping the top of the pouches and putting them on a baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes.

Mandy also heated up a couple of slices of Texas toast for dipping in the amazing juices of the seafood packets.

Needless to say, this was amazing, and the only thing I didn't like was when my pouch was empty!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Vegan Education

As a hardcore carnivore I haven't really ever thought about not eating meat, I have perused the Facon area of the market in order to pick up tofu for a dish, but the thought of eating something designed to look like its meat counterpart just doesn't appeal to me.  Last week Mandy asked her Nephew and Niece over for dinner this weekend, which we haven't done for a while.  They are just a obsessed with good movies as we are, so we always have fun hanging out.

A little over a year ago they switched to vegetarian and brought over veggie burgers to cook on the beast after I had just pulled a Brisket and Pork shoulder off for a family get together.  The Chargriller was not happy, but they enjoyed their dinner, so all was good.  When Blake called me on Friday afternoon to confirm that they were coming on Saturday he told me they have switched to full vegan.  What the fart is vegan I said to myself, but as he explained to me it is essentially a vegetarian, but they absolutely do not eat any meat or animal byproducts.  

Ok, easy enough, I know where the facon isle is in my local market, so I'll figure something out I thought to myself... I spent the better part of the night looking for recipes that were vegan, and actually sounded good. I settled on something familiar, black bean and portabello mushroom burgers.  Now we love black beans, and we love a gigantic portabello mushroom cap on the grill, but blending the two into a paste with other ingredients was a new territory for me.

As I milled over all of the options at the market for vegan friendly food items I discovered that labeling on these products is even more confusing and deceptive than conventional food products.  Unbeknownst to me, a lot of vegetarian products contain casein, which is a protein derived from mammals, specifically cows in this instance.  WHY!!! If I am looking at a product called Veggie Slices, don't you think they should be free of animal byproducts??  I found that you have to look for labels that actually say Vegan, vegan friendly, or read the ingredients to determine if it is ok to eat.  

Now comes the tricky part.... I am making "burgers" and in order to prevent them from turning onto mush in the pan, I needed a binder.  I couldn't use eggs, so I needed a substitute, and the owner of the market actually gave me a print out of all the items that can be used as a substitute.  Awesome! Flax seed mixed with water is on the list and I just happen to have it at home, so easy day.  

When I got home I started mixing up the ingredients for my patties.  I used a pastry knife to blend the beans and chopped up mushrooms into a paste like mixture.  I added in a 1/2 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, a pinch of salt, pepper, and a table spoon of ground flax seed in water into the mix.  It takes on the consistency of soft cookie dough, and really isn't easy to work with so I spooned it out onto saran wrap and pressed out my patties.  I then partially froze them to make it easier to work with when it came time to cook them.  

I cooked the patties in my cast iron pan on the stove top over medium heat to get a crust on both sides, without burning them.  I cooked them for 4 minutes per side, added the vegan cheese substitute, and covered the pan for 4 minutes on low heat.  

These things actually came out really well.  While they are not hamburgers by any stretch of the imagination, they were good on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and a little Stone Pale Ale Mustard.  For sides we made bruschetta and served it with black bean chips and vegetable chips.  Both were very tasty and vegan.

Now don't get me wrong, while this was good, I will not be giving up meat, ever! But it is essential information for any chef or backyard barbecue enthusiast to have so we can share our love affair with food even when meat is absent.

I am now going to go find a hunk of meat to smoke for dinner...